Request a Demo Search

Why You Need Culture of Philanthropy as a Management System

Nonprofit's culture of philanthropy
Topics -

Easily Manage Your Donor & Fundraising Needs in Bloomerang!

Schedule a Demo

culture of philanthropy

I once had a boss who insisted employee morale didn’t matter. She even sent me articles from Harvard Business Review purporting to prove this (if you read them closely, they didn’t). 

Her insistence on this was directly related to her management style. 

  • Top down. 
  • Holding information close to the vest. 
  • Assigning responsibility, without authority or autonomy. 
  • Wielding fear as a tool.
  • Firm conviction a culture of non-questioning followers results in highest productivity.

Well… A new Oxford University study is out revealing happy workers are 13% more productive than unhappy workers. Not only do happy employees work longer hours, they’re more productive in the hours they’re not working longer. 

Take that former boss!

Are Your Staff and Volunteers Happy about Their Affiliation with Your Nonprofit?

Happiness is not itself an end, but a symptom. 

A very positive one. 

Happiness shows you’re not just working hard, but smart. You’re not just doing things the right way, but doing the right things. 

Good morale is a by-product of a culture of generosity and abundance. 

A deliverable, so to speak, from what we in social benefit sector work call a “culture of philanthropy.” A culture where everyone is on board the ‘love train.’

Such a culture doesn’t just happen. 

Getting everyone on board requires leadership, strategy and a great deal of transparency.

It begins with getting clarity about your own current work culture.

Are You Operating a ‘Love Train’ Culture?

Do your workers say they love, hate or are merely indifferent about their jobs?

If hatred permeates your workplace, chances are good you’re operating a culture suffused with fear.

Fear is the enemy of a culture of philanthropy. It breeds mistrust, anxiety and timidity. It kills confidence and courage. 

  • Fearful people don’t want to step forward to lead, fearing reprisal. 
  • Fearful people don’t want to offer honest opinions, fearing reprisal. 
  • Fearful people don’t want to even think, fearing confrontation with their own unhappiness.

Indifference also has no place in a culture of philanthropy. It breeds apathy, lack of caring and a half-hearted approach. 

  • Indifferent people lack enthusiasm to go the extra mile. 
  • Indifferent people don’t offer opinions. 
  • Indifferent people act politely aloof to one another.

Love is Essential to a Culture of Philanthropy

Both fear and indifference are opposites of love, and silent killers of the passion required for nonprofits to survive and thrive.

Let’s reevaluate love today.

Love is the thing that pushes us to succeed.

Love is a thing that we have to feel for ourselves, for our family, for our friends, for our partners.

Love is what we want to come home to, but it’s also what we want to come in to in the morning.

We need love everywhere. And that’s the whole point.

We’re building a system with love inside.

— Hugh MacLeod, GapingVoid

Are you Building a System with Love Inside? 

Merriam Webster defines a system as “a regularly interacting or interdependent group… forming a unified whole.” Does this describe your staff and board?

First ask yourself if all your staff and volunteers are on board?  

In other words, are folks within your organization:

  1. Clear about your vision, mission and values, and 
  2. Inspired to work towards them as a communal endeavor?

Before you answer, review what Hugh MacLeod of GapingVoid Culture Design Group has to say on the subject: 

Most leaders are shocked to know that their employees are in the dark about their strategy, even though they’ve ‘been told a hundred times.’ The fact is that people are overwhelmedWhat is needed is a system to inform decision making, that aligns behavior, and unites people with a common purpose…a purpose that drives outcomes. The answer is culture.”

Think of Culture as a ‘System’

Merriam Webster defines a system as “an organized set of doctrines, ideas, or principles usually intended to explain the arrangement or working of a systematic whole.” 

How do you get there?

  1. First you need to agree to a love-inspired destination. Vision Statement
  2. Next you need to build the love train. Mission and Strategic Plan
  3. Finally you need leaders to inspire folks to hop on the love train. Shared Values

And, by the way, everyone in a culture of philanthropy is a leader.

Are You Benefitting by Framing Culture as a Management System?

To realize your vision, mission and values, you need to systematically manage the process.

The best management systems begin and end with culture.

To survive and thrive in today’s market, a healthy corporate culture is more important than ever.” 

— MIT Sloan Management Review, The Benefits of Framing Culture as a Management System

Researchers of MIT Sloan Management Review/Glassdoor Culture 500 collected, aggregated and analyzed more than 49 million anonymous reviews and employee insights from 900,000 organizations. They’ve been able to use this data to assess how well companies are doing and predict future failure or success – all based on their culture.

The fact that culture predicts failure or success should make you sit up and pay attention!

9 Cultural Values Found to Most Matter:

culture of philanthropy


As interesting as these values are (and they’re a great starting point), real culture must transcend lofty statements made by folks at the top of the corporate ladder. 

Culture must seep into every nook and cranny of your organization so it becomes a part of daily experience – akin to breathing oxygen.

What’s it Like to Breathe the Air in Your Organization? 

Toxic, dysfunctional cultures poison the air, leading to all sorts of poor performance. Healthy cultures pump up the air with pure oxygen, turbo-charging performance. 

When culture becomes the air you breathe, only then does it translate into actions – for good or for ill. 

The decisions your people make, and the actions your people take, translate into daily experience for your customers.

The Trifecta by which to Test the Air Quality in Your Organization?

  1. Decisions made by your customers
  2. Actions taken by your customers
  3. Daily experience of your customers

Who are your customers, you ask?

Everyone in your orbit, that’s who. Everyone who breathes your air. 

Staff, governance volunteers, direct service volunteers, donors, members, vendors, clients, community members and people who know them.

Think about how these stakeholders view their experience with your organization. Do you think it’s uniformly positive? Negative? Somewhere in between?

What might you do to improve your air quality?

In Part 2 we’ll review what it takes to develop a culture of philanthropy that guides all customer-centered daily decisions and actions in a manner that will positively impact your bottom line.

Hungry for some practical tools to heal the divide? Download this Culture of Philanthropy Checklist loaded with action tips to determine if your nonprofit has a culture of philanthropy in place and ways to get started creating one.

How to Write a Fundraising Plan in 2 Steps!

Download the eBook

Exclusive Resources

Related Articles


  • Renee Rubin Ross

    Great post! Organizational culture matters now more than ever, as nonprofits seek to retain employees in a tight market.
  • Key Strategies to Praise, Recognize and Give Meaningful Work Feedback - Clairification

    […] a broad, organizational culture of philanthropy [See here, here, here and […]
Leave a reply